The health and taste benefits of a veggie garden

Spring has sprung and with the danger of frost long past it is time to get your summer veggies into the ground. Gardens, of all kinds, can be challenging in the Santa Clarita Valley. Climate, soil and water can be daunting obstacles for even the most experienced gardener.

However, with great risk, comes great reward. The taste of fresh, homegrown vegetables makes all the effort worthwhile.

In addition to knowing your vegetables are fresh, you’ll know they are safe to eat, because you can control the conditions, pesticides and fertilizers you use to grow your backyard bounty.

Benefits of veggie gardening

Who knew that gardening could be considered a full-body workout? Plucking, pulling, bending, kneeling, squatting, digging and lifting all require movement from various muscles in the body. Gardening is a great alternative to the gym.

Gardening is also a great way to relieve stress. Not only is playing in the dirt fun, the physical activity releases mood-elevating endorphins in your brain. Watching your garden bloom and grow gives a sense of satisfaction and pleasure.

The hand-eye coordination needed for gardening is also a great way to promote brain health. The physical activity of gardening promotes healthy circulation and increased blood flow to the brain. All of these activities help lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Join a garden club

Want to share stories of your garden triumphs and failures? Want to learn from tips and tricks from gardeners with years of experience? Join a garden club. If you don’t have enough space in your backyard to dedicate to your garden sign up for a plot in the Community Gardens of Santa Clarita at Central Park in Saugus. New garden members are given plenty of resources to help them succeed in their gardening journey. All incoming garden members receive an orientation and gardening workshops and classes for adults and children are held throughout the year. The Community Gardens has a number of UC Davis extension master gardeners available to help. For information and a plot application visit www.communitygardensofsantaclarita.org.

Soil preparation

The most crucial step to any successful home garden is soil preparation. The SCV is notorious for having particularly awful soil. However, you’ll find bags and bags of soil amendments in every garden center in the SCV. The best amendment for soil of any texture is organic matter.

Rome was not built in a day, and healthy soil takes time to cultivate, as well. After years of composting and adding soil amendments (bags and bags of gypsum, among amendments) I finally achieved gardening nirvana, nice loamy soil. However, if you want more immediate results you might just start with raised garden beds made entirely from store bought garden soil.

Don’t forget fertilizers and manure. The best garden I ever grew was the result of some fantastically aged horse manure I obtained from a friend who boarded horses.

Make sure to work all your amendments into the soil with a shovel. Dig and turn, dig and turn, dig and turn. Work the soil about 10 inches deep, there is no need to go deeper. Avoid a rototiller if you can, overworked soil can cause more harm than good.  

Drip irrigation

Water, water, water! Regular, deep watering will give you a bounty of tasty veggies. Water at least three times a week to a depth of six inches. Some veggies, lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers and radishes, like lots and lots of extra water.

The best way to keep your SCV veggie garden watered at a price you can afford is to use drip irrigation. It is a way to put water right at the roots of the plants that need the water and away from pesky weeds, that you don’t want to water.

Kits for use in home gardens are available online at reasonable prices. This is a very efficient way to water because pressurized emitters can be set to water specific areas at pre-set rates. It is a great way to know exactly how much water you’re putting on your garden.

Planning your garden

Proper planning is another “must” for veggie garden success. Choose a sunny location to locate your garden. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. The more sunlight they receive, the bigger the harvest and you’ll get better quality and larger veggies, too.  

When planting your garden space your crops properly. For example, corn needs a lot of space and can throw shade onto shorter vegetables. Plants set too close together compete for sunlight, water and nutrition. For example, a row of carrots or beets planted too close together will fail to produce large, healthy plants. They will be all tops and no root to eat because they did not have space to spread out. Pay attention to the spacing guidance on seed packets and plant tabs. Make sure to thin your vegetables so there is only one plant every several inches. Give them space to grow.

The Top Ten

Here are the top 10 veggies suggested by the Old Farmers Almanac for beginning gardeners. Frankly, these the veggies I plant year after year because they are the veggies my family eats most!

Tomatoes (five plants in tomato cages); zucchini squash (four plants tops, unless you want to feed zucchini to your neighbors for the next three months); peppers (six plants, I like the sweet red peppers); cabbage, bush beans, lettuce, beets, carrots, chard and radishes.

Just for fun I reserve a small space in my garden to grow something new, just to see if it will grow. I’ve successfully grown artichokes (until the aphids came and ate them all), cantaloupe, okra and pumpkins.

Gardening Success

I’ve had lots of gardening success in the SCV without having to use any insecticides. Other than the one aphid infestation that took an entire crop of artichokes, the insects in the SCV seem to leave my gardens mostly alone.

Regular watering and persistence has been my keys to success. Not everything always grew well every year. Rotate your crops in your garden. Don’t plant the same thing in the same place each year. Use good quality fertilizer. Don’t fear the manure, it is gardening gold. Don’t worry about what variety of veggie to plant. The seeds offered in local stores are all rated for this area. I have found that trial and error (and the advice of other gardeners) is the best ticket to knowing which variety of a certain veggie to plant.

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